Categorized | Columnists, In My Mind's I

Pickles and root beer and ‘chrain,’ oh my!

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

My Boubby the Philosopher was queen of her kitchen. But throughout the year, some goodies were the province of my Zaidy the Plumber, all by himself.
First, there were the pickles. Clausson’s are probably the best in local markets today, but if you think they’re good, I feel sorry for you. They’re nothing like Zaidy’s pickles, which provided a sublime “sting” that stayed with you for hours after eating.
He also made delicious root beer. At times, it was dangerous to walk in the basement of the house because you’d have to avoid colliding with bottles that covered virtually all the floor until Zaidy declared it was time to bring them up and start drinking. And how did he know that? Well, he’d cleverly constructed a “timer” of sorts by inserting a raisin or two (or maybe three) into a few of those bottles which, left alone long enough, would ferment. And when that happened, they blew the corks right out of their bottles. The sound from the cellar that resembled gunfire signaled drinkability, and everyone in the family would holler out, collectively, “The root beer’s ready,” accompanied by loud applause.
But most important of all: Zaidy made the horseradish for our Pesach Seders, and it packed a wallop that outdid everything else, surpassing even his stinging pickles and his “pickled” root beer. As a child then I had no idea what his process was, or how long it took. But I remember that at a certain time before the start of Passover, we grandchildren would gather in the dining room, seated in a ceremonial half-circle around the foot of the long table, with Zaidy sitting opposite us, alone at the head, a dish of beet-stained red stuff in front of him.
It was a quiet ritual, at least at first, and very informal: I remember him wearing a sleeveless white undershirt for the occasion. Then we would watch, holding our collective breaths, as he took a heaping spoonful from that dish, swallowed the contents in one big gulp, threw back his head —and his eyes watered furiously while his face turned as red as what he had just ingested.
After what seemed to us a long, dangerous time, he would lower his head, regain his powers of speech, and declare with satisfaction: “Good. The chrain is ready.” Then the “fun” was over; the color would drain from his face, and we’d go back to more normal activities. But to this very day, I can’t abide that wimpy stuff I find in jars…
One more bit of cooking for the “man of the house”: Once in a great while, he would make cernatzlach. If you don’t know what these are, you are definitely not Romanian. In truth, neither was my Zaidy, but he was born in a small village located on several borders that included Hungary and other countries, so depending on who was in charge locally (no one Jewish, for sure) and what day of the week it was, his nationality was subject to change. But this was a meichel no woman in our family ever attempted: finely ground beef, mixed with nothing at all except many, many cloves of garlic that had been peeled, boiled and mashed, all then formed into sausages like fat little fingers and boiled. Another powerful Zaidy dish.
I actually have an 80-year-old Jewish cookbook that doesn’t feature lists of ingredients; it just tells you what to add and do as you read along. And this “recipe,” this step-by-step set of instructions, is in it. Four cloves of garlic to every pound of meat, it says; more if you prefer. As you can guess from the information above, Zaidy did prefer.
May your Pesach tables be beautiful and your foods delicious, so good memories will travel with you into a future as long as I’ve held mine: of pickles, root beer and — above all — chrain. (P.S: Cernatzlach are Kosher for Passover…)

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